Blanco White’s debut LP draws a line in the sand early on. On the Other Side is dedicated to “the children of another life” in its stirring opener, those who find themselves lost in the world’s vast and gorgeous expanse, reaching for meaning in a fluid notion of home. “So, for now, it’s only a long night, it can’t go on and on,” the title track reassures, though that promise is fraught from the beginning. This record is in motion from its first notes, yearning for something solid to hold with a pensive and mournful air.
There’s a palpable wanderlust suffusing every second of On the Other Side, but for Josh Edwards—the British singer-songwriter behind the deeply unsubtle nom de plume of Blanco White—finding a home in unfamiliar landscapes is not necessarily anything new. Edwards left his native London to craft his sound from Spanish flamenco and Argentine bailecito and cueca, training in Cadiz and then Bolivia to hone his sound in the textures of Spain and Latin America. What results is an album that hits the ear like one long reverie, as Blanco White’s gentle, dreamlike folk washes over the listener in a wave. Each song strives to create a sense of place: not necessarily a real one, but reflections of the regions Edwards owes his craft to, ranging from South America to Somalia and back to the rural southern hills of his beloved Spain.
Which isn’t to say that On the Other Side smacks of some kind of vanity project, at least not outright. Edwards’ soft warble calls on the inherent vocal drama of flamenco just as handily as the romance of cueca, blended with a stringent and practiced pop heart. There’s a solemn and earnest love in this act of translation, most obviously in the theatrical guitar and Andean charango of “I Belong to You” and “All That Matters”. At some moments, the album feels like an intellectual exercise as much as a sonic one. There’s a heartbroken meditation on loss and solitude takes its title from Henri Charrière’s novel Papillon. The furtive funk of “Samara” borrows generously to Somalian ’80s groups like Dur Dur Band. The electronic tones of “Desert Days” owes its central metaphor to Jorge-Luís Borges’ short story “The Two Kings and The Two Labyrinths”.
Blanco White’s mission is starting in its lucidity here, pairing these deeply-rooted cultural styles and references with a sense of deep loss and longing. Standout “Olalla” touchingly laments the rustic towns and villages of southern Spain left behind by a rapidly modernizing world. “Kauai O’o” eulogizes the civilizations and nature ravaged by human excess: “Everywhere I run, I hear only silence,” Edwards cries in the refrain, a beautiful sound met only with the echoes of the album’s production.
Even with Edwards’ clear reverence for the musical heritage he draws his sound from, it’s difficult at times to understand Blanco White in concept as more than zealous tourism. Edwards isn’t shy about his influences, and his guitar work alone is impressive enough to speak to his training and skill. But for all his earnest immersion in the genres he sows together here, there’s a nagging unease biting at the album’s heels by the end, questioning whether these stories, cribbed from the vastness of both European and Latin traditions, are his to tell, or if these stories lose their impact in his voice. Perhaps it’s to the album’s credit, then, that Blanco White—and Edwards himself—aren’t truly centered over the album’s runtime. Rather, On the Other Side feels comfortably satisfied with its nomadic sensibility, genuinely awed in its pursuit of home in a deep and enduring sonic tradition.